“Meta-Commentary” in Morrison’s “Multiversity”: Obsessions with Pop-Culture

In the past decade, society has begun to use the phrase “That’s so meta” more and more. This idea reflects the growing notion that we acknowledge that we are living in a work of fiction, something that is being made by someone else for others’ enjoyment. It also acknowledges that we understand the basic parameters of fiction and are seeing them appear in our daily lives.

This knowledge has made us more self-aware about not only ourselves but also what makes a good story relatable. To this extent, fans’ focus on pop culture has grown exponentially to the point of bursting. Every story published now has some “meta” reference to the real world, and the real world in kind makes its references back. It almost makes us feel like Gods, being able to influence and enter these stories and the worlds they take place in. It’s a lot to take in, but our growing obsession with pop culture is showing up everywhere we turn.

This is seen most clearly in the way almost every media outlet has begun to focus in on the world of comic books. Each year around mid-July, the city of San Diego is flooded with comic fans from all across the country for Comic-Con International, a multi-day comic book convention where the biggest news and events of geek culture happen. Many media organizations, from pop culture magazines like Entertainment Weekly to full-fledged news organizations like CNN, cover this event and others like it. People who may never have taken any interest in something like Comic-Con are suddenly exposed to that world, making fans of these events feel like the center of attention, just like many of their favorite heroes and villains are. Comic readers see this as the perfect time to express their inner desire to be a part of their favorite books through the act of cosplay.

Cosplay, or the act of dressing up like a character from a work of fiction, has exploded into a large pastime for countless fans. At any convention across the globe, one would be able to see dozens, if not hundreds, of people dressed as heroes like Batman, Spider-Man, or Wonder Woman. Some costumes are hastily made and crudely designed, while others are meticulously crafted and cost an obscene amount to make. Some people even make themselves over to look even more like the characters they’re imitating, even if that means shaving their head or slathering face paint over themselves. The lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur more and more, and sometimes it even becomes impossible to tell which is exactly which.

Grant Morrison meeting the fictional character Animal Man, from "Animal Man #26
Grant Morrison meeting the fictional character Animal Man, from “Animal Man #26

This obsession with the world of comics has grown to a fever pitch, and most comic book creators are only now beginning to acknowledge the blending of worlds in the comics they write. By creating stories that revolve around real-world events or utilize real public figures, writers are further blurring the lines between reality and fiction. However, one writer has been doing this very thing since the eighties. Grant Morrison, born and raised in Scotland, began writing comics in the Nineteen-Eighties for small British publishers like Warrior and 2000 AD. His first big break into American comics was to revamp the struggling DC Comics character Animal Man. In a new series commissioned by DC, Morrison began to incorporate the idea of comic book characters becoming self-aware as to their existence within a piece of fiction into his story. His run on the book even concluded with Animal Man himself meeting Morrison with the context of the story, and both of them having a philosophical discussion about the nature of free will and the boundaries of reality.

In the decades since he finished his run on “Animal Man,” Morrison has taken this kind of approach to all of his work, including moments where the characters of his books begin to cross streams into what we might perceive as “our” reality. Books like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta” have attempted to tackle real-world problems and concepts within the pages of comics, yet Morrison actively tries to break down the walls of fiction with his books. His latest venture, entitled “Multiversity” from DC Comics, is perhaps his most ambitious project yet to this idea. This book argues that by obsessing over comics, fans are actually hurting the world they live in.

Right from the opening pages of the series, Nix Uotan, a character known as the “Superjudge,” is shown epitomizing the current comic book “superfan.” When the reader first sees Uotan, he is bent over analyzing a comic book, talking out loud to someone in a headset about what he is finding in the book, which is supposed to be “haunted.” This book that Uotan is obsessing over is, in reality, a gateway for a group of horrifyingly evil “ideas,” known as The Gentry, to enter their world and corrupt it. By over-analyzing this book, Uotan is allowing the ideas that destroyed countless universes before into his world. Morrison argues here that by obsessing over these books as if they were religious texts, fans could potentially become “infected” with negative ideas that could hurt our world.

Nix Uotan analyzing a comic book in "Multiversity #1"
Nix Uotan analyzing a comic book in “Multiversity #1”

Despite this, fans pour over these books because it makes them feel powerful and gives some stability to their lives. More often than not, the superheroes that fill comics can solve their daily problems and save the day with little challenges to their overarching status quos. The character Captain Atom in “Multiversity” argues that by being able to flip through the pages at any order they want, fans are almost like Gods to these characters. Like Morrison in his “Animal Man” run being able to manipulate the free will of the character, Atom argues that readers can influence the outcomes of books by choosing how they read each issue. On top of the notion of dressing up like these characters, this notion only adds to fans’ perceptions of what is real and what is fiction begins to blur even more. It’s a powerful idea, but one that Morrison argues could ultimately prove detrimental to fans.

Through all of his critiques on the culture, Morrison tries to argue that reality is just as good, if not better than what can be found in comics. Further along in “Multiversity,” the reader follows Batman, now Damian Wayne, as he tries to argue against the power comics have over other characters. Many of his allies have grown complacent and uncaring about wanting to save the world, instead electing to party and obsess over different types of media, including comics. Damian rebels against this belief, declaring to others, “Real life is better than any comic book.” Even though he cares about the world, no one else seemingly does. People on the streets of Gotham at the time of a large attack look up and say “whatever.” This apathy of their world has spread to every person in it, not just the heroes. Damian, and by extension Morrison, point out the obvious flaw in becoming too self-obsessed with the worlds of fictitious heroes.

Despite all of this, fans will still find power in trying to become a part of the comic book universes they read about. Even though Morrison argues against this kind of obsession, fans will still do whatever they can to feel like a part of it all. Whether it be through cosplaying at conventions or obsessing over message boards, comic book fans may eventually lose themselves in the question of what is reality and what is fiction.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Jamie Tracy

    Interesting article,
    I like Morrison a lot. His Animal Man run was absolutely fantastic.
    I am not digging Multiversity but it may be because I am so entrenched in Animal Man and I feel Morrison is getting “preachy”.

    “Wanted” would be a good comparison for this theme as well.

  2. Grant Morrison at his best
    A good start for us good old comic book geeks.

  3. Multiversity is packed with fantastic visuals, meta-textual commentary, and a surprising amount of fun! Everyone should read it.

  4. I like Morrison when he has a strong editor to keep him from going too far into incomprehensibility.

  5. Thanks, nice post! Heaps of meta-commentary in this one.

  6. It seems somewhat ironic that Grant Morrison is villainizing obsessive comics readers in his new writings, since obsessive comic book fans are his target audience. His expert run on Batman references storylines and characters dating back to the inception of the caped crusader in 1939. I would guess that even the most dedicated bat-fans out there needed to consult the Batman Encyclopedia at least once or twice between Batman and Son and Batman Incorporated. Morrison himself is an obsessive reader and an obsessive writer for obsessive fans.

  7. Ordering this today, thanks for the interesting article.

  8. The stories of the multiverse are ones I have always enjoyed.

  9. It takes some time to appreciate a Morrison work. Gladly, I have read lots of Morrison stuff before reading Multiversity.

  10. Myrtice Halcomb

    The humor, and a load of meta-commentary on the readership is great.

  11. Fun piece! I have not been reading Multiversity but I have read some Morrison’s Batman stories. Well done!

  12. Tribbler

    love the art of multiversity but to vague of a story and weird plot line

  13. I recommended this to anyone who want a challenging superhero comic to read.

  14. You should read an essay by Oscar Wilde called “The Decay of Lying” in which he argues that life imitates art far more often than art imitates life. It’s a fascinating read and one that would be suited to any discussion of the relationship between art and audience.

  15. The Multiversity is a very Morrison-esque, somewhat enjoyable read that’s quite uneven throughout.

  16. Morrison’s expertise has always been, in my mind, defined by his understanding of fandom’s focus on detail. He tends to be critical in the fans failure to embrace the totality of the complexity associated with comic form. In this way he reminds me of Alan Moore, but he differs in that he sees the possibility that superhero comics can do more and arguably Moore has abandoned this idea. So, Morrison’s efforts is grounded in asking fans to look beyond the immediate now to a broad consideration of the genre. It is a complex argument, especially given the face the comic medium has moved from the fringe to the mainstream.

  17. I don’t read that Morrison is attempting to draw a line between what is called ‘fiction’ and ‘real’, but the opposite. The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in Hugh Everett The Third’s The Theory Of The Universal Wave Function conveys that any thought deviating from the outcome of the observer effect is just a ‘real’ as what is experienced by the observer occupying phase space. When reading The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1, the reader is giving matter-by-mind to the trap unleashed on the multiverse dubbed the “Gentry”. The reader reads into the negative meme and releases onto the multiverse what can only be overridden by continuing to read into the positive memes of The Multiversity #2.

    Morrison may be positing that readers have more of an influence on the multiverse than creative orchestrators of graphic narratives do. While the orchestrators of the graphics peer into another universe or a portion of the multiverse not including Earth 33, the reader reinforces those multiverse phenomenons. To Grant Morrison, every idea is canon. However, what matters in the multiverse is what is emphasized by the reader reading dreams, memes, and themes. We must direct our attentions away from the negative memes to the positive ones so we may reshape our state-of-minds, thus the multiverse, into healthier melodies ready to progress forward.

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